If you were to explain the concept of “a Legal-Themed video game” it sounds frightfully boring. We’re talking about a profession where a single case can take multiple months and an absurd amount of paperwork to keep track of! …Riveting stuff, right? But take the base elements of a legal trial: a crime or dispute to be solved and this premise offers you the chance to tell engrossing stories, write entertaining characters, and craft an engaging mystery. Which brings us nicely to Nina Aquila: Legal Eagle!
This humble little game series heavily inspired by Capcom’s Ace Attorney series comes to us from the mind of Ethan Fox and was created in the RPG Maker engine. Yes, you read that correctly; this is a story-driven legal simulation in an engine made for role-playing games! Immediately, I was intrigued to see how a game like this can work in this well-renowned engine! Let’s see how Nina handles herself in the courtroom!
Players take on the role of Nina Aquila; an up-and-coming Canadian defense attorney and protege of Anya Miller at her agency. You’re quite literally thrown into your first proper trial defending a client accused of arson at a company’s Halloween party. With Chad Hawke, a prosecutor claimed to be a prodigy, and the weight of a guilty verdict riding over the head of the defendant, Nina has her work cut out for her!
Rather than being a singular experience, Nina Aquila: Legal Eagle is separated into chapters, each of which has you solving a new case with a new cast of colorful characters. This release structure serves the overall story rather well, with each chapter ending with a cliffhanger and hinting at a larger plot. You can tell that Ethan Fox is a massive fan of anime with some of the stories he comes up with, and as a fan of the medium too, that love comes off as genuine and doesn’t feel forced or contrived.
Each chapter follows a tried-and-tested formula: you’re introduced to a new character or focus on a character previously established, explore a location for clues, attend the trial at the courtroom, and this process repeats until you hopefully obtain a not guilty verdict. Of course, there are some screwballs thrown in there to avoid tedium setting in and helps keep things unpredictable. I didn’t know where each case was going to go and new information gleaned from investigations completely changed what I thought I knew previously! For lack of a better comparison, I haven’t felt this way since I played the original Ace Attorney. That was clearly Ethan Fox’s intent and he succeeded with flying colors! Though there are some pretty major leaps of logic and if you’re expecting a completely realistic courtroom experience, let’s just say you’re in for quite the surprise!
As for the writing, it’s incredibly strong! Pacing is an often overlooked problem in story-driven games: if it’s too short, you don’t get attached to the world and its characters. If it’s too long, you’re at serious risk of losing the player’s attention and boring them as a result. Nina Aquila: Legal Eagle finds a comfortable middle ground and gives enough information to keep you engaged to see the end of a case! There’s also some comedy thrown into the mix too and I regularly found myself chuckling at all the humorous segments! There’s also a plentiful amount of references to various properties; some more obvious than others. Some may find that the references are a bit too abundant, and while that is true, it doesn’t detract from the game’s story or identity.
As of writing, there are currently three chapters released. We don’t know how many chapters are planned and there’s no release structure, as they seem to be released once they’re finished. It’s unfortunate that we don’t know exactly when the story will continue, but what we have now is more than impressive!
A lot of what makes this game’s story so engrossing is thanks to its character cast, with Nina herself serving as the glue keeping it all together. She’s a newbie to the law world, continually doubting herself and her ability to defend her client. This isn’t unfounded either; without giving anything away, as you progress through the story, you begin to understand the reasons why she acts this way. This is despite her understanding the weight of her responsibilities and having quite a way with words; a strong trait to have as a lawyer. Even so, she tends towards being lazy and slothful when not on the job, to the point that she even sleeps at Anya’s agency. Nina’s a wonderful protagonist; one which I want to learn more about as more chapters are released!
The supporting cast are no slouches either! Early on, Nina gets an assistant in the form of Dylan Merlo; a former biker gang member. He isn’t as deep as Nina, but serves as a strong motivator for her and they have great chemistry with each other, bouncing back-and-forth with each other’s quips and comments.
Anya Miller is Nina’s mentor; a rational thinker and level-headed woman who is shown to be a veteran of the legal sector. She’s also quick to anger, though if you had a lazy and unrefined protege too, you’d likely also put your foot down! We don’t see much of Anya, but even then, her presence is felt quite frequently throughout the game and seems to play a pivotal role in the game’s larger overarching narrative.
Prosecutor Chad Hawke serves as Nina’s rival in the courtroom. Early on, there isn’t much to his character other than having an ever-present ego and serving as a constant foil for Nina. We do get a bit of insight into his character, but it’s not much. I’m sure we’ll get to learn more about him as more chapters are released, not unlike that of Miles Edgeworth from the Ace Attorney series.
But by far my favorite supporting cast member is Judge Tawny! While the judge in the Ace Attorney series is portrayed as a scatterbrained old man, Tawny is an interpretation of a famous TV personality: Judge Judy. Tawny has an aggressive deminer and comes off as a woman who doesn’t take crap from anyone! Even when threatened by a supposed sealed demon inside one of the witnesses, she doesn’t flinch at all at this supernatural occurrence! Though she’s not immune to the charm of a suave gentleman, even when at the judge’s table. I seriously can’t get enough of her and her interactions with all the wacky and off-the-wall witnesses the prosecutor brings to the trail!
When looking at the game as a whole, it’s hard to believe that a game like this was made in the RPG Maker engine! Though at its core, it has the skeleton of a classic JRPG; 4-way directional movement, an overworld map, and the tried-and-tested blocky menus and dialogue boxes. Despite this, just like the narrative, the gameplay is quite linear. While you have free movement in the overworld, you’re practically told where to go to progress the story, rather than letting you explore the expansive environment of Fledge City. There was a chance to truly flesh out the environment, but you always feel like you’re being led around in a taxi without any pitstops.
This design works in the game’s favor though, because all the cases are primarily situated in one location: the scene of the crime. Once there, you explore the area for clues; inspecting almost everything and talking to relevant people to get clues you can use in the trial. It’s in these areas where you’re introduced to each chapter’s unique minigame. Nina is portrayed as an outsider to the communities she’s investigating, so she’s got to earn some respect by participating in various activities. Here are the ones unique to each chapter (not including chapter 1):
In chapter 2, Nina is investigating a murder that took place at a casino that’s hosting both an anime convention and trading card game tournament. To get information from some of the top players in the tournament, you’re going to have to get to grips with this children’s card game. These card battles take place in an arena, requiring you to place monsters in one of three positions on the field once you have enough mana. This is just the beginning though.
As you win battles, you obtain new cards that can only be placed in certain areas on the field. You also unlock special abilities to gain special bonuses or cure status ailments. Battles are very quick, with turns flying by in the blink of an eye, though you’re thankfully able to take as much time as you need when summoning monsters or using skills. It’s a simple game, but elemental weaknesses and positioning your monsters helps add some strategy. Plus, the quick pace of battles means they don’t overstay their welcome and makes this minigame a refreshing change of pace from your investigation!
In chapter 3, an illegal street racer is killed when the best racers in the area are participating against each other on a remote mountain road. These racers are part of separate groups named after suits of playing cards and take their racing hobby very seriously! The only way to get these people to help aid your investigation is by beating them in a street race… and yes, the game is aware that a lawyer is participating in an illegal sport. The concept of street racing sounds exciting, but its execution is unfortunately very lackluster. Your goal is to cross the finish line first and you do this by filling up a speed meter by winning confrontations with your rival. You do this by picking one of three racing strategies: Rage, Technique, or Belief. I won’t sugar coat this: this is literally a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors, and compared to chapter 2’s card minigame, this is very shallow by comparison.
There’s virtually no strategy here; it all comes down to luck, which goes against the game implying that Nina is getting more proficient at racing as the chapter progresses. The only wrinkle to this are the skills you use when you draw with an opponent’s decision, but most of them just give you another chance if luck doesn’t happen to be on your side. What’s worse is that these races take far too long to finish, which is ironic given this is supposed to be a high-speed street race. This is only exasperated when the game forces you to do many races in quick succession and it soon becomes tedious. I’m grateful that there’s an Auto-Race option that lets you win each race while still showing the race taking place, but it’s a bad sign when I have to praise an option that lets the game skip gameplay!
But what about the court cases? That’s what the game is all about after all. I’m happy to report that I had a blast with all three of the court cases! Each trial sees a witness brought to the podium and it’s your job to cross-examine their testimony to find any flaws or contradictions in their statement. This can be done in one of two ways: you can press the witness to have them go into more detail or present evidence to prove that their statement is false. At any time, you can bring up your evidence list to see descriptions of each of them before choosing to present them. Should you present an incorrect piece of evidence, you’ll be penalized by losing a health point. Lose four health points and the defendant is declared guilty and you’re back to your last save point! This isn’t too harsh a punishment though, since you’re given the option to save your game during any cross-examination.
This is by no means a new system, but if it isn’t broken, why fix it? Trial-and-error is sometimes required to progress but for the most part, analyzing a witness’s statement and blasting them with a truth bomb of evidence while shouting “OBJECTION!” will always be satisfying! Even though it’s directly influenced by the Ace Attorney series, it’s a brilliant twist on a puzzle game system, and it’s used to great effect in Nina Aquila: Legal Eagle!
It’s not perfect though: one specific instance during my time with the game stood out and I have to address it. In the first chapter: during the first time you’re asked to present evidence to dispute a witness’s claim, two pieces of evidence allow you to progress. No other moment in the game allows you to do this, so this could teach a new player that more than one piece of relevant evidence can occasionally be used to progress the case, even though no other instance like this ever shows up again.
Even with these type of issues, as a whole, Nina Aquila: Legal Eagle is very enjoyable! The fact that these mechanics and minigames were all created in the RPG Maker engine is extremely impressive and shows that the engine can be used in creative ways that aren’t limited to the RPG genre!
We need to take into consideration that Nina Aquila: Legal Eagle was created by one person using various assets, so I can’t scrutinize the game’s presentation too harshly because of this. There are some small problems that occasionally pop up; small things like sprite layering issues or looping audio having noticeable sections where you know where the loop occurs. These problems don’t detract from the game’s quality, but they do stand out.
One issue I do have is the game’s art style, or rather, art styles. The art is by no means mediocre; actually, a lot of it is very well done! The problem I have is that the art style is noticeably inconsistent. Across all three chapters, I counted six different instances where different art styles were used:
- The in-game sprites when exploring environments.
- The profile images for when a character talks. A lot of the characters regularly change their expressions as they talk, helping accentuate the emotion of the character in question.
- The art cut-ins for when Nina or Chad interject during a trial with “HOLD IT!”s or “OBJECTION!”s.
- A rather unflattering illustration of Nina asleep in bed.
- A chibi design for Dylan at the end of the races in chapter 3’s minigame.
- The character art of the defendant and a few witnesses in chapter one looks as if they’ve been taken from an RPG Maker asset pack.
These constantly flip-flopping art styles hamper the game’s identity. Three would have been acceptable, but six are just too many to try and incorporate.
The environments are thankfully much more consistent. They’re all sprite-based and mesh very well with the overworld sprites. Speaking of the overworld, Fledge City is visually striking! Subtle 3D effects for tall buildings and the world having a subtly angled perspective help add to the effect. So it’s a shame that you can simply walk through most of the buildings, which sort of ruins the city’s polish.
The highlight of the game’s presentation is easily the sound! The music is far better than I was expecting; these were some genuinely fantastic tunes that elevated the whole experience tenfold! There’s also some voice acting too, but only for Nina and Chad. Nina Aquila is voiced by Rachael Messer and Chad Hawke is voiced by Ben Meredith. Their performances are only heard in trials during interjections and while they’re good, I feel like more could have been done. Why not have some characters include sound clips for various circumstances in dialogue like sighing or saying a short quote? It would mean getting a lot more voice actors to play more of these characters, but it would do wonders for increasing the game’s overall quality!
My expectations for Nina Aquila: Legal Eagle were extremely high and now that I’ve played it, I can say that in a lot of ways, it exceeded them! The most important aspect for a game like this is its story and while it may not be a finished story as of yet, so far, it’s a very well told one! What’s better? Each chapter is only $4, with the first one being free! Putting the playtime of all three chapters together, you get around 9-10 hours of content, which is more than worth the price of entry! Even if you’ve never played an Ace Attorney game before, Nina Aquila: Legal Eagle stands on its own as a fine game in its own right! I can’t wait to see where Nina’s exploits take her next!
NINA AQUILA: LEGAL EAGLE IS RECOMMENDED
Many thanks go to Ethan Fox for a PC review code for this title.
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